Sunday, July 19, 2015

What Do You Do Best? And What Happens When You Can't?

There are skills we develop over the course of a lifetime. Some of those skills, maybe only a handful or less, are honed and refined into whatever it is that we do best. Sometimes that's a result of our own choices, having chosen to say: "I want to be the best at ...." And sometimes what we do best has had nothing to to do with what we chose, but instead had everything to do with the situation we were in: "It wasn't a goal of mine. I never thought I'd became the best at it...." Perhaps you've experienced this in the workplace. Perhaps you realized this at home, in relationships, friendships, hobbies, philanthropy.

How many people do you know, in your family or workplace, who have acquired skills and become increasingly, even incredibly!, good at doing something, something that they never did professionally or personally? Think for a moment. Maybe you count yourself as one. It's okay if maybe you don't - keep thinking. Because each of us has at least something - one thing - that we do best, that we do better than anything else. 

But what happens when we can no longer do whatever it is that we do best? For any reason including retirement, aging, injury, or disinterest - then what? Are we condemned to a life of mediocrity? Must we live the rest of our lives as having minimal purpose, little usefulness, or minor contribution? The Jewish answer is: No, of course not! 

While we often encounter this later in life, the truth is we can face this at any time of our lives, frequently following what is usually the most unexpected of life-impacting events. Then then it hits us: whatever it was that we did better than anything else, we can no longer do as well - or do at all. And that alone is hard enough. But it is only when we are able to accept that, even reluctantly or begrudgingly, that we can in fact start to acquire one of humanity's finest skills: becoming the best you can finding what it is you can still do, and then doing it to the best of your ability

This uniquely human ability to acquire expertise in, of all things, skill-seeking - is not shared with the animal kingdom. Consider these three animals: a dog, a tiger, and a snake. (I could include goldfish and parrots, but you get the point.) Are any of these animals capable of finding other skills to acquire, thereby redefining what it is they do best? Isn't it more likely that animals, especially as they age, only do less and less of what they know how to do. Because what they know how to do is all they know how to do. But every human being, each of us, need not and should not limit ourselves in such ways. Judaism teaches us that this is a blessing of being created "בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים," be'tzelem eloheim, "in God's image" (Genesis 1:27).

So, what happens when whatever it is that you do best, you can't do as well, or at all? Then you can do what it is that you, that each of us, can always do: become the best at finding out what you can do best

Not only will you discover a skill or ability that you can do best, even if you think you haven't found such a skill, guess what: you already have! You will discover that what you do best is the most valuable skill of all: the skill of becoming the best you seeking out that which you can still do.

So what are we waiting for? Let's get doing!

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